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Interview: Meet the Cast of Axial Theatre's VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE

We spoke with Mickey Pantano, Jeff Schlotman, Anna Fawcett, Branden Youshock, Gail Greenstein, Jenn Bedell, and co-director Rachel Jones.

Interview: Meet the Cast of Axial Theatre's VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike comes to the Chappaqua Performing Arts Center August 13-15. We spoke with Mickey Pantano (Masha), Jeff Schlotman (Vanya), Anna Fawcett (Sonia), Branden Youshock (Spike), Gail Greenstein (Cassandra), Jenn Bedell (Nina), and co-director Rachel Jones.

Company members spoke about the show's process and characters, as well as how it feels to return to live theatre after so long. Get tickets today at Axial Theatre's website!


What has the rehearsal process been like?

Mickey Pantano: As with any show the rehearsal process has its ups and down. I find that once I have my lines down it is much easier to inhabit the character and and organically embrace the through line of the show. I have to admit that Durang's dialogue can be difficult to memorize, however, he is such a comic genius that once you have it the comedy comes through naturally.

The cast has become such a cohesive unit that the rehearsals are like being with family, fun (usually)!

Jeff Schlotman: The rehearsal process for Vanya has been one of basically delving into the Meisner Technique of acting. It's all about finding the honesty of each individual character. It isn't so much about cross to downstage left etc. but more discovering what feels honest to you as Vanya. What would he do? How would he react etc. in real life? It's almost the complete opposite from something like Musical Comedy where the director/choreographer "paints" a picture of "how does everyone look onstage? " Are the dancers in sync? etc. It's what makes "straight" plays and musicals co-exist. Both theatrical but both a completely different sense of reality.

Anna Fawcett: Our rehearsal process is amazing. Rachel and Cat are so creative and giving. They know their craft inside and out and it's a pleasure to be directed by them. They know exactly how to help us develop our characters and it's done in a loving, nurturing manner.

Branden Youshock: The rehearsal process has been both fun and challenging for me. This is my first time being a part of anything like this, so I've just been trying to take in and learn as much as possible. To see the amount of time, thought and effort that goes into putting a show together and to watch something grow and evolve and come to life has been really enjoyable and rewarding. It's been a great experience.

Gail Greenstein: I thoroughly love the rehearsal process, and this is a wonderful ensemble piece.

We're all working hard and I feel very supported and supportive.

Jen Bedell: It's truly been amazing! Not only is it our first in-person show back, but it's also such a small cast that we've really formed a little family. I couldn't have asked for a better cast to return to the stage with than this group!

Rachel Jones: The rehearsal process has been really joyful , and meaningful. Working on a comedy during this time is tremendously life affirming. Durang has so many thoughts that are eerily timely in this moment of our collectively having gone through this period of Covid. For example, the characters of Sonia and Vanya have been isolated for years , caring for their aging parents and are in a moment of re-evaluating their lives..what do they want to do differently? Masha, the fading movie star, ultimately realizes her priorities have been skewed..she comes to value time spent with her family in a deeper way.

What is your favorite part of the show?

Mickey Pantano: That is just such a difficult question, I love living through the journey that Masha takes. I can't choose just one particular part. I will say that having been trained as a Meisner actor it is incredibly fun to do "repetition" in Act 1.

Jeff Schlotman: t's difficult to pick out a favorite part of this show because it's such an ensemble piece. I would gladly proclaim my favorite part of the show has been the "process!" The self-discovery and the self-awareness needed to bring this production from a first table read to opening night is really what theatre is for me. There are 4 performances that bring joy in and of itself but the rehearsal process has taken weeks and weeks. Getting there is most of the fun.

Branden Youshock: My favorite part of the show is obviously anytime I get to take my clothes off.

Gail Greenstein: My favorite part of the show is Sonia's phone call monologue. Oh, and all my off-the-wall monologues/oracular pronouncements!

Jenn Bedell: I have too many! Anna (who plays Sonia) has a wonderful monologue in the 2nd act that always makes me smile. She's so genuine and that whole call feels extremely real and something you can see happening outside of this play. I also love the play because of how silly it is and how allows me to be a lot more of my musical theatre self in a non-musical setting.

Rachel Jones: So many favorite parts!! The competitive crying scene between drama queen Masha and her wallflower sister Sonia, (the Jan to Masha's Marsha), Spike's hilarious self involved, opportunistic antics including a "reverse strip tease", the play within the play that has strains of Chekhovian humor, Vanya's monologue in which Durang addresses so many problems of disconnection in our modern day society...too hard to pick just one!

Are you like your character in any way?

Mickey Pantano: I believe that we must always find find a part of ourselves in the character, otherwise it's impossible to access the vulnerability, drive and life. I love Masha, all her faults, tenacity and vitality. And after all "all good actors crave attention slightly."

Jeff Schlotman: Am I like this character in any way? I can't tell you how many times I've been asked that. Over the course of my theatrical "career" I've done over 250 shows primarily Musicals. Each character is completely different from the other: Henry Higgins, Harold Hill, Fagin, Billy Flynn, El Gallo, Julian Marsh, Algernon Moncrieff, Albin/Zaza (in La Cage Aux Folles) to mention a few. So yes I am like each one of those. How could I not be? Somewhere inside of me is an understanding of who each character is, almost a familiarity, a buddy, a friend. Perhaps, I've already been reincarnated 200 times living each of those characters somewhere in my past?? (cue: tongue-in-cheek guffaw)

Anna Fawcett: I have a lot of Sonia in me. It's almost type casting! Not really but these characters are so human I think we all see some of ourselves in them. The most fun aspect is remembering what it's like to react like we did when we were children. Sonia is very pure in the sense that she interacts with others in a childlike manner.

Branden Youshock: Hmmm....I think both Spike and I share a positive outlook on life. We both enjoy being physically active. We are both aspiring actors.. And we both like frogs...and older women (wink,wink)!

Gail Greenstein: It's important to find ourselves in our character and the character in ourselves...so, Cassandra and I are in process of becoming more and more alike. Life and art do have a way of magically leaking into each other!

Jenn Bedell: I'd like to hope so. Nina sees the good in everyone and wants to be the support system they can turn to. She really wants those around her to be happy and she's willing to stand by their side as long as she is able. In my own life, I strive to be that support system for those around me and give everyone a chance; however, I don't think I see the world with the same naive eye as Nina does.

How does it feel to return to live theatre?

Mickey Pantano: Honestly, I have been chomping at the bit to return to the stage for 17 months.

We had our first read through of this show in March 2020, then everything shut down. It is a joy to have the opportunity to final put it up!!!

It feels as though I have my life back.

Jeff Schlotman: Of course, to have had theatre be such a complete fixture in part of my daily life and to have it suddenly removed from reality due to this damn pandemic has been a kind of rediscovery of myself in a different form. Finding new things to learn about and explore has in some way been exhilarating. But now that we're back (at least for the time being) I am reminded, gleefully, why I've spent all those years on the boards to begin with!

Anna Fawcett: Returning to live theatre means the world to me.

Branden Youshock: I'm not sure how it feels to be "back"- as this is my first time- but, I'm super excited about being a part of this production! It feels exhilarating.

Gail Greenstein: I can hardly express how thrilled I am to be returning to live theater!!!!

Jenn Bedell: ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!

What should audiences expect from this show?

Mickey Pantano: To have Fun! Laugh! Cry (a little), empathize and rejoice that we are LIVE again!!!!

Jeff Schlotman: Hopefully, audiences will be as happy as I am to be back in live theatre fulfilling their job as just that, an audience, the second most important element to live theatre. I am hoping they will be swept away to Bucks County, Pennsylvania and laugh along with the pitfalls and foibles of Vanya and Sonia, and Masha, and Spike!

Anna Fawcett: The audience can expect to laugh, maybe tear up, forget their troubles and have a roaring good time.

Branden Youshock: Audiences should expect to have some fun and laugh. It's almost like being invited to watch some offbeat reality show. A look behind closed doors into life, family, relationshops, mortality and much more. .

I'm hoping it will be a nice, little weekend getaway to Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Gail Greenstein: I think the audience can expect a witty, fun-filled time seeing an excellent production! I imagine they'll be as excited to be attending live theater as I am to be participating in it.

Jenn Bedell: Our show is about change - something every single person can relate to after these past 18 months. I think our audiences can expect to laugh, feel a little bit of weight lifted off their collective shoulders, and at least for the time they're with us see change as a wonderful adventure ahead instead of something that's been so scary for all of us.

Rachel Jones: I think audiences will definitely be entertained which is something we all need right now. I think being able to return to see live theatre, albeit in a socially distanced way, sharing a collective experience that has such relevant and timely themes to what we are all going through, will be quite meaningful, resonant and hopefully joyfully cathartic!


Tickets for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike are on sale NOW at axialtheatre.org.



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